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Audio Bishop Fisher Education Features

Diocesan educators honor Golden Apple, St. Sebastian Award winners


The Diocese of Buffalo’s Department of Education honored six adults for their contributions to the classroom or athletic arenas with the presentation of the Golden Apple and St. Sebastian Awards, at the conclusion of a special Mass held at St. Stephen Church on Grand Island the evening of Tuesday, May 30.

“You all come to Catholic schools for a variety of reasons, but my guess is we could probably pinpoint three that we all share,” said Dr. Timothy Uhl, secretary of Education for the Diocese of Buffalo. “The first is, you want something more for your children. Not just an education where they learn to read and write. Where they are formed to be better people.”

The other shared reasons, Uhl suggests, are quality activities and great teachers.

The Golden Apple Award, a new recognition created by the diocese to honor teachers who “go above and beyond in their school communities by living out the Catholic faith, exemplifying a growth mindset, and implementing creative instructional strategies to build student engagement.”

The three winners of the diocese’s first-ever Golden Apple Award are Renee Gaume of SS. Peter & Paul School in Hamburg, Anne Moran of St. Peter School in Lewiston, and Terri Strassel of St. Gregory the Great School in Williamsville.

Students who were honored during the academic year with Character Awards were also recognized (see below).

Strassel worked in advertising before deciding to change careers and become a schoolteacher. Both fields, she noted, aim to influence people.

“You’re trying to get an agenda across to whomever your audience is. It’s easier with children because they want to listen,” Strassel said. “They want to learn. They’re engrossed in anything you tell them, storytelling. They love to be out in nature, which I do too. We learn about God through nature. We learn about science and about the art in nature.”

The St. Sebastian Awards, named in honor of the patron saint of athletes and archers, were on hiatus until three individuals were honored for 2023. These honorees are not necessarily employed by their schools but instead volunteer their time and efforts to promote youth sports.

This year’s St. Sebastian winners are Rick Diamond of OLV Elementary School in Lackawanna, Regina Rhodes of St. John the Baptist School in Alden, and Brian Shipley of DeSales Catholic School in Lockport.

Diamond and Rhodes were unable to attend the Tuesday evening Mass, but Shipley, who attended DeSales in his youth, spoke of his continuing contribution to the school as the head coach of seventh and eighth grade boys’ basketball for the past 10 years.

“I love the game of basketball so much, and of course we’re all competitive, but for me it’s about building great relationships,” Shipley said. “To have a bunch of my former players come out tonight and share in this award with me means the world to me. I think it shows the type of young men that have come through the program, and the quality of character, as they go one to high school, college, and beyond.”

Bishop Michael W. Fisher presided over the Mass. The Gospel was taken from Mark 10:28-31, which begins just after Jesus told a rich man that to follow Him, he would need to give up all his possessions. In the Gospel passage read at this Mass, Peter says to Jesus that he and the disciples had given up everything they held dear to follow Him. Jesus, in reply, reminded Peter that those who have given up everything to follow Him will eventually receive 100 times more plus eternal life, but the first will be last and the last will be first.

Click to listen to Michael Mroziak’s audio report

The bishop, in his homily, connected that lesson to the work of all teachers within the region’s Catholic schools.

“You sacrifice so much in your life,” Bishop Fisher said. “Certainly, the pay and the salary cannot compete with our public schools. But yet, you devote and dedicate yourselves to our children. You sacrifice a lot of your time and give of yourselves for the benefit of your students and our children, for their care and their well-being, and their nurturing and their formation.

And as for God’s promise of an eventual reward?

“We can still look in our own situations and see sometimes the fruits of what we work for and are dedicated to, we don’t see until years later.”

Strassel spoke of that point, and why she gladly works in a Catholic school setting.

“I have a great tie with all my families of the children that I teach. The idea that we can do it under God’s house is really important,” she said. “I know we can instill values whether you’re in public school or private school. But being able to bring your religion into it, and your faith into it, is the biggest plus of all.”

The Mass also recognized students who, over the course of the academic year, were honored with Character Awards. Several Catholic schools were represented at the gathering:

Catholic Academy of Niagara Falls: Bianca Dominguez, Jaylen Dunn, Mattingly Dzielski, Corbin Herman, Madeline Noel, Andrew Raepple, Isabella Wiatr.

Christ the King, Snyder: Matthew Klein, Mai Mahoney, Wyatt Christopher Pegnia, Regan Rice, Michael Streit.

DeSales, Lockport: Rudy Brouillette, Madison Burns, Evelyn Coutourier, Isaiah Goff, Silvia Hay, Eoin Stodolka.

Immaculate Conception of East Aurora: Isaac Bennett, Timothy Cich, Charles Gicewicz, Aaron Howe, Ani Keyes, Ashley Kitchen, Hagen Leuthe.

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Clarence: Giovanni Boccabella, Maggie Goulette, Gabriella Hoertz, Anthony Johnson, Anna Sahlen, Noah Spear.

Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, Depew: Elle Casucci, Sean Diebold, Makayla Emilianowicz, Jenna Foote, Carter Landseadel, Rylee McGill, Briella Motley, Charlotte Panfil.

St. Andrew Country Day School, Kenmore: Sarah Blass, Cameron Dunning, Joseph Higgins, Isabella Martinelli, Claire McPhillips, Joseph Pavlovich, Logan Sullivan, Alexandra Vansuch, Anna Vansuch.

St. Benedict, Buffalo: Emily Fronczak, Bridget Georger, Adeline Long, Vincent Majchrzak, Abhi Matala, Joseph Maxwellhappy, Sloan Rhoney, Jane Roussi, Leo Schult, Naavah Simon.

St. Christopher, Town of Tonawanda: Adalynn Borkmanis, Carter Gregson, Christina Henel, Lily Riggs, Max Rinaldo, Amelia Siemens, Hunter Timmins, Haylee Tomsic.

St. Joseph Regional School, Batavia: Lucas Bobo, Madelyn Casey, Dalton Conrad, Makenna DeLong, Tillie Fava, Erin Hamblin, Michael Hamblin, Gabriel Herzog, Natalya Lyons.

St. Mary, Swormville: Mary Attea, Greyson Butch, Amelia Bocketti, Meghan Carver, Sonia DaSilva, Adam Ferrelli, Noah Valentine.

Sts. Peter & Paul, Hamburg: Emma Calkins, Finn Krist, Elizabeth Kubera, Alexander Lane, Hayden Litzinger, Nicholas Przyklek, Madelyn Rhodes, Lauren Seifert, Nicholas Stromecki, Campbell Szczesniak, Francis Thomas.

Sts. Peter & Paul, Williamsville: Sheridan Brown, Amira Haynie, Lara Lincoln, Tristan Roth, Julia Voelkl.

St. Stephen, Grand Island: Natalia Curry, Eloise Davis, Caroline Farmer, Allyson Miller, Ella Pawelczyk, James Rose, Lucas Saldana, Kennedy Sondel.

Southtowns Catholic School, Lake View: Charlee Ahrens, Patrick Curran, Dominick Curtis, Dylan Hartnett, Savanna Herdman, Maya Luna, Claire Owens, Avery Swinarski, Natalie Vella.


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